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The term ‘foulbrood’ covers two diseases of honey bee larvae; American foulbrood (AFB) and European foulbrood (EFB). Both of these diseases occur in the UK. American foulbrood is considered the most destructive brood disease, while European foulbrood is the most widespread. Both AFB and EFB are subject to statutory controls in the UK.

The Bee Diseases and Pests Control (England) Order 2006 (SI 2006 No 342), empowers the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) to take measures to control both diseases in England. There are separate Orders in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

American foulbrood

American Foulbrood is caused by a spore forming bacterium called Paenibacillus larvae. These spores are the infective stage of the disease and infection begins when food contaminated with spores are fed to larvae by the nurse bees. Once in the gut of the larva the spores germinate, bacteria move into the larval tissues, where they multiply quickly. Infected larvae normally die after the cell is sealed and millions of infective spores form in the larval remains. P. larvae spores remain viable for many years and are very resistant to extremes of temperature and to many disinfectants.

American Foulbrood infection

European foulbrood

European Foulbrood is caused by the bacterium Melissococcus plutonius. Larvae become infected by consuming contaminated food fed by the nurse bees. The bacteria multiply within the larval gut, competing with it for food. They remain in the gut and do not invade larval tissue; larvae that die from the disease do so because they have been starved of food. This normally occurs shortly before the cells are capped.

A frame of honey bee brood with signs of European foulbrood

If you suspect that you have Foulbrood, you must contact us or your local Inspector.

Further Information